When it comes to menstrual products, pads and tampons are two of the most common options. Both serve the same basic purpose of absorbing menstrual flow, but they do so in different ways. One key difference between pads and tampons is the capacity – that is, how much menstrual blood they can absorb before needing to be changed.
How absorbent are pads versus tampons?
Pads are designed to absorb flow outside the body, while tampons absorb flow inside the vagina. This means that:
- Pads have a much larger surface area coming into contact with flow as it exits the body.
- Tampons rely on insertion into a relatively small vaginal cavity to absorb flow.
As a result, pads generally have a higher total absorbency and can hold more blood overall than tampons before leakage occurs. Here are some estimates on maximum absorbency:
|Overnight/extra heavy pad
|Extra absorbency tampon
As you can see, even a regular pad holds significantly more fluid than even a extra absorbency tampon. Overnight and heavy flow pads have two to four times the capacity of even the most absorbent tampons.
Factors impacting absorbency
There are a few key factors that account for pads holding more blood than tampons:
Pads have a much larger surface area to absorb flow as it exits the vagina. Pads for heavy flow can be over 10 inches long and 3 inches wide. Tampons rely on insertion into the vaginal canal, which is less than 4 inches deep on average. The vagina simply does not have the same capacity to hold absorbed fluid as a pad does.
While both pads and tampons use absorbent materials like cotton, pads use additional super absorbents like hydrogel, cellulose, and polyacrylate polymers. These can absorb up to 10-20x their weight in fluid. Tampons do not use these advanced absorbents to the same degree, limiting their absorbency.
Pads often have multiple absorbency layers, with a quick absorb top layer followed by high capacity core layers. This allows fluid to be rapidly pulled into the pad but also stored and contained. Tampons absorb more linearly along their length and lack the layered design.
Pads only need to be changed every 4-8 hours, even on heavy flow days. Tampons often require changing every 2-4 hours to prevent leakage and saturation. The longer pads can be worn safely, the more fluid they can absorb overall.
Do these absorbency differences matter?
For the average menstruator, pads holding more blood than tampons is unlikely to make a major difference. However, there are some considerations around absorbency capacity:
- Overnight use – For nighttime protection, the ultra absorbency of pads makes them ideal to prevent leakage during long sleep hours.
- Heavy flow – Those with very heavy menstrual bleeding may need the longer change intervals and higher capacities of pads to manage flow.
- Comfort – Some may simply feel more reassurance knowing their pad can hold a high volume of blood if needed.
- Activities – High intensity exercise like running and swimming may be better accommodated by pads’ larger reservoirs of absorption.
- Toxic shock concerns – There are rare risks of toxic shock with highly saturated tampons, making lower absorbency a factor.
However, personal preference is still most important. Plenty opt for the discreetness and convenience of tampons despite lower absorbencies. With the right size and change frequency, tampons can still reliably manage flow for most.
Striking a balance
The ideal menstrual product combines high absorbency with comfort and ease of use. Here are some tips for achieving balance:
- Use regular absorbency tampons for light flow days to maximize comfort.
- Have super absorbency tampons or a pad backup for heavy flow days.
- Change products more frequently on high flow days.
- Use overnight and extra long pads when more absorbency is needed.
- Consider absorbency needs for specific activities.
- Test different product absorbencies to find the right balance.
Staying aware of flow levels and adjusting products accordingly can help optimize absorbency. A mix of pads and tampons can also provide flexibility for different situations.
Pads ultimately hold more blood than tampons, due to greater surface area, advanced absorbent materials, multi-layer designs, and longer change intervals. For those with very heavy flow or specific absorbency needs, pads provide greater capacity and security against leakage. However, tampons can still reliably manage flow for most when used properly. Finding the right balance of absorbency, comfort, and convenience requires testing out different products. With so many pad and tampon options now available, most can find a menstrual product routine that suits their individual needs, preferences, and activities.